Like many heritage railway operators across the UK & Ireland, due to the continued fire risk caused by the very hot and dry weather, we have to run diesel trains instead of steam to reduce the risk of us starting fires.
The weather has been so dry and hot, there’s a high risk of any spark from a steam locomotive setting the grass alight and causing a serious fire, so we have swapped the steam engine for a diesel one this weekend again, for Sunday 8th July.
Remember to check our opening dates before you travel to Downpatrick – we aren’t open this Saturday, but we are open every Saturday and Sunday from the 14th of July through to the end of our summer season. You can see the dates here.
As well as the fun of a 1960s diesel locomotive at the front of your train, all the usual attractions will be open – you can read more about this here. And a cab ride in the diesel loco is a great treat for the Big Kid in all of us. You can now book cab experiences online right now via our ticket office.
This summer, visitors to County Down can relive the elegance of by-gone railway travel as a season of ‘Summer Steam’ steam trains chuffing their way through the picturesque County Down countryside, along nearly two miles of restored track, begins this July.
And over the last thirty years a small group of volunteers in Downpatrick have painstakingly rebuilt two miles of the line as Ireland’s only full-size working heritage railway, running from the town centre out through St. Patrick’s Country to the ruins of the 12th Century Cistercian Inch Abbey, and every weekend visitors will be able to travel back in time to the golden age of trains.
Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner said that Inch Abbey is a popular destination with train passengers.
“People who have lived in Downpatrick all their lives have travelled on our trains and told us that they were sorry that they’d never been to the Abbey and didn’t realise how beautiful it and this area of the Quoile River was,” he says, “So if the sun’s back out, hop on board and bring a picnic with you and catch one of the later trains back?”
Mr. Gardiner added, “Or if the rainclouds linger, you’re always undercover inside a railway carriage – and hop about our buffet carriage to stop the sarnies getting soggy!”
Hauling the trains will be the “Sugarpuff” engine, or Orenstein & Koppel built steam locomotive No. 1, which used to haul wagons of sugarbeet during her working life for Cómhlucht Siúicre Éireann, the Irish Sugar Company. Her sister locomotive No. 3 is coming back into service this year after a long restoration, so you might get lucky and see her too!
You could also see a classic 1960s diesel locomotive helping out, with ex-Irish Rail diesel locomotive No. 146 providing a fantastic rumble at the start and end of each day, as well as hauling all trains on Sunday, August 26th, our now traditional annual summer diesel day. Kids need to be sure to wave at the driver, and get him to blow the horn for you!
Teas, coffees, cool drinks, buns, biccies and chocolate bars are served all day onboard a 1950s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station.
Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station is also much more than boarding the train, with our museum and ‘Carriage Gallery’ visitor centre we bring the golden age of the railway vividly to life and you can find out what impact the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued. You can explore the inside of some of the lovingly restored carriages, or climb into the cab of a big diesel locomotive and imagine the life of a drive in the 1950s and 60s.
For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard, or have a go driving Thomas the Tank Engine on our model railway – or will the ‘big kids’ want to have a go too?”
You can also visit the lovingly restored Bundoran Junction signal cabin, now taking pride of place at Downpatrick Station rechristened ‘Downpatrick East’, where you can imagine yourself as the signalman controlling the trains and learning about the vital role signalling had on our railways.
For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a Footplate Pass for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver – you can now book these in advance for a special birthday treat.
Doors open to the public at 1pm each open day, with final trains departing at 4pm and doors closing at 5pm. Tickets cost adults £7.00 return, £5 for children, and £5.50 for senior citizens and other concessions. Children aged three years old or younger can travel free of charge. A family ticket costs £20 for two adults and up to three kids. You can book all tickets online for convenience, including the footplate passes.
You cold also take out membership and join the DCDR Society and get free travel for the entire year, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre – or maybe you’d like to volunteer, and one day you could be driving the trains, being a station master, or laying the tracks yourself!
Summer trains start running on Sunday 1st and Sunday 8th July, and then run every Saturday and Sunday from July 14th through to 9th September. The railway also opens on the Bank Holiday Monday, August 27th. Please check the dates carefully before you travel.
Steam trains are running at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on the weekend of 16th and 17th June as part of the new DownTime festival of horse racing, music and culture being held across the Downpatrick area.
To enter into the spirit of fun, there’s a special offer for kids to get in free too. “We want kids to get in the saddle and gallop on down,” says DCDR Chairman Robert Gardiner, “so if they bring something ‘horsey’ with them – it doesn’t matter what, it can be clothing with pictures on it, some actual horse riding gear, a stuffed toy, or even a My Little Pony – they get free admission!”
The train is being hauled by the railway’s own stallion of the rails, a ‘Black Beauty’ of the steam variety. Orenstein & Koppel steam locomotive No. 1, is a German-built locomotive that hauled wagons filled with that staple favourite of horses, sugar beet, during her working life in factories across Ireland.
For a cultural connection, you can visit the historic 12th Century Cistercian monastery at Inch Abbey – perhaps taking a picnic out with you to enjoy some chilled time on the banks of the River Quoile.
Teas, coffees, cold drinks, biccies and buns at highly competitive rates will also be served all afternoon onboard the DCDR’s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; you can also drive to our Inch Abbey station and catch the train from there if you wish.
“A trip to the station museum and the Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life,and celebrate the relationship between the railways and racing,” says Mr Gardiner.
He explains this relationship, “The Chief Executive of the Irish National Stud, John Osborne, noted in an episode of ‘Great British Railway Journeys Goes to Ireland’, that “the train would have been the artery of horse racing. A lot of the Irish racecourses not coincidentally evolved close to mainline railways. We take for granted today how easy it is to ship horses twice around the globe now, but back then the racehorses travelled by train as well.”
Whilst racing at Downpatrick predated the coming of the railways, the arrival of the railway in the town in 1858 meant a similar relationship soon developed. Originally horses would have been carried to Downpatrick station in special railway horseboxes, and horses and racegoers would then walk out along the Ballydugan Road to the racecourse.
The opening of the BCDR’s branch line to Ardglass in 1892 meant that a halt closer to the racecourse could be built. The BCDR printed special tickets for racedays, and special trains being laid on to connect with Dublin trains in Belfast. It was a massive logistical undertaking for the BCDR. This all ended, of course, when the line closed in 1950.
Mr Gardiner adds, “You can look at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.
“For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own ‘Kids’ Station’ in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard and climb on board the cab of a locomotive or carriage for their photograph to be taken, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – ‘big kids’ might even get a go too.”
For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a ‘Footplate Pass’ for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver – this would be a great Father’s Day treat for the Sunday! A reasonable level of fitness is required for this experience, and you need to be aged 18 or older.
Trains run at the from 1pm to 4pm, with all-day access tickets costing: adults £7.00, £5.00 children and £6.00 senior citizens. Kids aged 3 or under travel free, as does any other child up to age 16 who can bring a horsey item with them! A family ticket costs £20, which covers 2 adults and up to three kids.
Mr Gardiner adds, “While you’re there, you can join the DCDR Society and get free travel all year, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre and have the opportunity to volunteer – who knows, you might end up driving the steam trains yourself in a few years’ time!”
You can purchase your tickets when you arrive, or beat the queues and buy them online at our online ticket office now.
Catch the steam train at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on this year’s Spring Bank Holiday, Monday 28th May,
The Spring Bank Holiday Monday is the perfect chance to take another trip to Inch Abbey this time to sample the delights of a real steam train and rail travel at its most traditional.
The train is being hauled by a ‘Black Beauty’ of the steaming kind, Orenstein & Koppel steam locomotive No. 1, a German-built locomotive that hauled wagons filled with sugarbeet during her working life in factories in the Republic.
If you’re looking for something to do in the gloriously sunny exam weather, you can catch the steam train out to the 12th Century Cistercian monastery at Inch Abbey – perhaps taking a picnic out with you to enjoy some chilled time on the banks of the River Quoile?
Teas, coffees and cold drinks as well as lots of buns at highly competitive rates will also be served all day onboard the DCDR’s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; if travelling in to the town from Inch Abbey the return journey can be made on any of the services.
A trip to the station museum and the Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.
For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own ‘Kids’ Station’ in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard and climb on board the cab of a locomotive or carriage for their photograph to be taken, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – ‘big kids’ might even get a go too.
For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a ‘Footplate Pass’ for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver. A reasonable level of fitness is required for these.
Trains run at the new times of 1pm to 4pm, with all-day access tickets costing: adults £7.00, £5.00 children and £6.00 senior citizens, and don’t forget that children aged three years old or below go free. A family ticket costs £20, and Or you can join the DCDR Society and get free travel for the entire summer months, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre.
You can buy your tickets when you arrive, or online now – visit our online ticket office!
The Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s “Save an 80 Class” appeal to safeguard the future of one of Northern Ireland’s most distinctive trains came to a successful conclusion with the delivery of the iconic railcars over the weekend of 12th & 13th May.
The local heritage railway had launched the fundraising appeal at the start of April to help bring the retired units to their preserved line, saving them from the scrapyard.
Railway chairman, Robert Gardiner said, “In less than a month we raised a staggering £12,500 from donors from all across Ireland and Great Britain, from £5 to £1000, with an addition £7,000 pledged from the Modern Railway Society of Ireland.”
He continues, “This has been the most successful fundraising campaign we’ve ever undertaken, and we are deeply humbled by the response from the public towards this campaign – our thanks to everyone who donate.”
The four vehicles that make up the 80 Class unit, power cars No. 90 and 69 and driving trailers No. 752 and 749, were transported from Translink’s York Road engineering depot over the weekend of the 12th and 13th May, using a specialist low-loader lorry from Reid Freight Services in England – one long enough to accommodate the heavy vehicles – the power cars weigh over 63 tonnes!
Mr Gardiner adds, “We’ve been quietly working on this project since the vehicles were withdrawn from passenger service in 2011, but I don’t think anyone expected it would be this long before the project came to fruition.
“However, what an amazing time it has been – we have been incredibly lucky to have arranged with Translink to get two of the vehicles repainted into their original maroon and blue livery, but using modern long lasting and durable two-pack paint. The operational units will therefore feel entirely heritage and look very presentable to our visitors when they arrive, and not look like a modern Translink train.
“It has also been a joy calling into York Road every so often to check on progress – the enthusiasm and pride that the team behind the project in NIR have in the restoration of these two vehicles is simply fantastic.
He also paid tribute to the pioneer of this project, “I’m also delighted to have got agreement from the family of our late chairman and friend Mike Collins to name power car No. 69 after him. Mike was a keen driving force behind this project back in 2006 when the initial vehicles were withdrawn and again in 2011, I think it’s a wonderful testimony to him. I’ve been in touch with a foundry that specialise in casting nameplates and hope to place the order for these soon.”
With the vehicles secure and delivered, attention turns to getting them into service.
Mr Gardiner continues, “All donations will all go towards the cost of this repainting, the transportation costs and also the ancillary work needed to return these vehicles to passenger service which can now begin.
“This will include deep cleaning the interiors and other works and getting them ready for passenger service – and hopefully we’ll be able to launch the vehicles later this year subject to driver training – anyone interested in helping with this refurbishment work is more than welcome to register to become a volunteer, or indeed to learn to drive the train.”
Mr Gardiner adds, “There’s nothing to stop anyone becoming a guard or driver of these trains if they are willing to go through our in-depth training and pass all the necessary exams!”
Donations to the appeal are still welcome, and can be made by logging on to our 80 class appeal webpage.
From railway buffs to casual visitors all ages looking for a day out, there’s another chance to catch the steam train at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on this year’s May Day public holidays, Monday 7th May and 28th May.
Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says the May bank holidays are the perfect chance to take another trip to Inch Abbey or to see the delights of a real steam train for anyone who did not get the chance at Easter, or those who just couldn’t wait to come back!
“As well as fun for the children, mums and dads also get the chance to experience rail travel at its most traditional, as passengers will be able to taste the elegance of by-gone railway travel on 50-100 year old carriages through the picturesque County Down countryside along nearly two miles of restored track.
“Refreshments at highly competitive rates will be served all afternoon on board our buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; you can start your journey at either end of our line, and return on any train you like.”
Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station museum and the ‘Carriage Gallery’ visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.
“You can also visit our beautifully restored signal cabin at the end of the platform in Downpatrick, formerly from Bundoran Junction in County Fermanagh, and learn about the life of a signalman. The signal cabin is even wheelchair accessible too, as are the trains and Carriage Gallery.”
Children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Carriage Gallery, where they can climb into a vintage locomotive cab and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on out model railway – or will they let the ‘big kids’ get a go too?”
For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a Footplate Pass for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver (you need to be 18+ to do this).
Tickets cost £7.00 for adults, £5 for children 4 and over, concession fares are £6. Children aged below four years old go free! A family ticket is £20 for two adults and up to three kids.
You can book your tickets at our online ticket office now or buy them when you arrive at our station.
Dogs are very welcome on our trains, provided they are kept under control. Free Parking is available at both Inch Abbey and Downpatrick Stations.
Last admissions are at 3:45pm. Trains depart from 1pm-4pm, the station is open until 5pm.
See our Timetable & Fares webpage for further information.
In 2018 we are running trains to support the two major St Patrick’s Events – St Patrick’s Landing, and St Patrick’s Day itself.
Advance ticketing is available for these events – visit our secure online ticket office now to buy your tickets!
St Patrick’s Landing, Sunday, 11th March:
There is a host of interactive activities taking place at Inch Abbey from 12:30pm to 5pm, including boats on the Quoile (weather permitting).
You can arrive in style on one of our heritage diesel trains, as we are running services departing from our Downpatrick station from 12pm to 5pm. You can park in our free car park and the train will take you to Inch Abbey, where it is just a short walk from our station to the Abbey itself for all the festivities.
St Patrick’s Day, Saturday 17th March
The town is hosting the usual St Patrick’s Day parade, which starts around 3pm in the town centre. There’s a load of activities going on around the town as well, making it a great day out for everyone. We’ll be running steam and diesel trains throughout the afternoon, and our museum, carriage gallery and other attractions will be open as usual.
We will be running trains from Inch Abbey to Downpatrick from around 12pm, with the last return train departing from Downpatrick at 5pm. Inch Abbey can be a very useful park & ride facility to get you into the town without having to struggle with the road closures.
If you buy your tickets in advance you can choose which train to travel on up to 2pm, and return on any train you like. Advance tickets are only available for trains up to 2pm at Inch Abbey, after that you can purchase tickets on arrival at both Inch Abbey and Downpatrick stations.
Our standard fares will apply to both these days:
Children 4+: £5.00
Children under 4: Free
Family (2 adults + up to 3 kids): £20
As usual, you can take more than one train trip if you wish, and you are welcome to spend as long as you want exploring the railway, station and museum.
For more information:
How to find our station in Downpatrick
Fed up with turkey and ham leftovers? Selection boxes all empty? Nothing to do after Christmas, knowing that the kids will be bored rigid before going back to school?
Well, this Saturday, 30th December, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway is offering something a little bit different to keep the Holiday Blues away, with their New Year Diesel Specials.
This event is pay-on-the-day only – see this page for more details of fares and times.
Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says, “Although Santa is gone, mums and dads everywhere are still looking for something to do with the kids instead of watching endless repeats on the television.”
“Downpatrick & County Down Railway is your guaranteed sanctuary from turkey sandwiches,” jokes Mr. Gardiner.
The locomotive gracing the rails will be ‘Baby GM’ 141 class locomotive No. 146, a yankee engine built by General Motors in Illinois in 1962.
Mr Gardiner says “This American baby boomer is one of the last remaining examples of a class that saw service all over Ireland, including the famous ‘Derry Road’ line from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh and Strabane, giving that line a short-lived taste of the future before its controversial and premature closure in 1965.
“We also offering Footplate Passes for £20 a trip on board this locomotive that typified Irish branch line trains for decades,” he adds.
Doors open at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway 12:30pm this Saturday, 30th December, and normal train fares apply at £6.00 adults, £4.50 children, and senior citizens/other concessions are £5.50. Tickets are available on the day only – there’s no online booking for this event.
We’re getting a lot of queries about our Lapland Express Santa train operations this weekend – Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December.
Rest assured that we intend to run all trains this weekend, our crews are used to the cold and it takes more than a bit of snow to put them off. We can’t promise that everything will run perfectly to the exact minute, but we do intend to run all trains.
Depending on how far you are travelling, you may want to leave a little extra time for your journey – and be sure to wrap up extra warm, as this is an outdoor event.
Please watch our Facebook page for any updates. If the situation changes we will post there.
The Downpatrick & County Down Railway has signed for a large consignment with a former Travelling Post Office, or TPO, being delivered to the heritage railway.
The vehicle has been moved into the DCDR workshops where some remedial work will take place to prepare it for display in the DCDR’s Carriage Gallery for visitors to explore and learn the history of the postal service and its connection to the railways.
Museum curator, Neil Hamilton, explained what a TPO is:
“A TPO is essentially what the name says – it’s a specialised railway vehicle where mail is sorted en route to its destination. The DCDR is delighted to be able to display this unique piece of railway heritage in our viewing gallery.”
The first train to carry post was in 1830 when the General Post Office (GPO) signed an agreement with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and soon the Post Office was quick to see that railways would be very useful for transporting mail, with Westminster passing the Railways (Conveyance of Mails) Act of 1838 which required railway companies to carry mail, by ordinary or special trains, as required by the Postmaster General.
By 1855, the Post Office started to use special sorting carriages or Travelling Post Offices on trains. Post Office staff would work on sorting the letters as the train travelled on its way and mail bags were dropped off and collected as the trains sped to their destinations.
Trains had a special net for catching mail bags that were hung out for collection on the route and a similar net would catch the sorted bags for the different towns and villages on the way. The Travelling Post Office was a great system and served the country for nearly one hundred and fifty years delivering many millions of letters. It helped to speed up the mail and also to develop rural towns as business owners were able to send and receive correspondence and packages more easily.
Ireland’s railway companies operated their own Travelling Post Offices, and with the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State nearly a hundred year ago, responsibility for the TPOs passed to the new Department of Posts and Telegraphs in the south, later becoming An Post in 1983.
Neil Hamilton pointed out that “Irish TPOs were equipped with letter boxes on either side of the carriage so that mail could be posted whilst the train was stopped at a station on route. A notice under the post boxes declared that an additional half pence stamp was required for availing of this privilage! Today, the post-marks from TPOs are highly valued by stamp collectors”.
The infamous Great Train Robbery of 1963 in England took place with the hijacking of a TPO.
While TPO use in Great Britain continued until 2004, by the 1990s only two TPO routes were still operated in Ireland by Irish Rail and An Post, to Galway and Cork, which were finally axed in 1994 with mail being moved solely by road.
Stephen Ferguson, Assistant Secretary Museum Curator of An Post, said, “I am delighted that our Travelling Post Office carriage, number 2977, has found a new home in the ancient town of Downpatrick.
“Since we moved mail transport to road back in 1994, we have been trying to find a suitable place where our carriage might be publicly displayed and appreciated. Various ideas were explored over the years but it was only when I got in touch with Neil Hamilton and his colleagues at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway that I felt we were on the right track.”
He adds “By way of this long-term loan, An Post and the D&CDR will have the opportunity to bring before a wider audience the historic connections that have existed between the Post Office and the railways for well over a century and half.
Mr Ferguson continues, “At a time when both the postal and railway services face huge competitive challenges, it is important to recognise the vital contribution made over many generations by postal workers and railwaymen to the development and maintenance of communications in Ireland.
“There is a wealth of service, tradition and pride in these great institutions and I am happy that our TPO will be cherished by the committed people involved with the D&CDR. I am grateful for the help we have received from Irish Rail in organising the move from Dublin to Downpatrick and look forward now to working with Neil Hamilton and the team here to tell what is the fascinating story of the links between mails and rails.”